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To Hurl or Not to Hurl: A Second Opinion on "Mission: Space" -- Part I

To Hurl or Not to Hurl: A Second Opinion on "Mission: Space" -- Part I

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As another brutally hot and humid Orlando summer staggers to a close, the August 15th official opening date of Epcot's Mission: Space draws nigh. As this eagerly-awaited attraction rose from the dust of the dearly departed Horizons, enquiring minds have buzzed with questions. Is the centrifuge technology as revolutionary as they claim? Does it have the detail and re-rideability of a true E-Ticket? Is it enough to save Epcot from years of lagging attendance? And, most importantly, will it make you puke your guts out?

The short answers to the first three questions is: yup, sorta, and probably not. It's that last question that is the source of most of the controversy surrounding the ride.

Speculation about the illness-inducing properties of the ride has run rampant in news articles, discussions boards, and web sites. On July 14th, Jim Hill added fuel to the fire with a colorful story about the ride's effect on some guests. Has Disney made a mistake of epic proportions? Are they spending $100 million to do to paying guests what your kid brother used to do to the family cat in the dryer? Will the massive marketing campaign planned do any good if Regis turns green on live TV? Is the average Epcot patron likely to toss his cookies after 4 ½ minutes in the interstellar spin cycle? And will he still be willing to fork over cash for a churro afterwards?

In response to Jim's article, I posted some controversial comments on the JHM message board. As a an annual passholder, I've had the opportunity to ride M:S about a dozen times since it began public testing in June. For the first few days of testing, you would see a small crowd gathered at the construction wall in front of the attraction each afternoon. We would stare at the CMs gathering on the other side of the wall, and they would stare back, neither of able to talk openly about what everyone knew was about to happen. Then, around 4pm, the wall would be opened up we grateful guinea pigs would be ushered inside. Over the next few weeks, as word got around, the crowd gathered each afternoon grew larger and larger.

Now, the attraction is operating at near-full capacity, with all 4 centrifuge bays operational. Preview signage is still up, and we won't be able to fairly judge the attraction until it's officially operated during a peak attendance period. But I've experienced the attraction enough times, and watched enough others get off it, to have a good feel for how the average rider might respond.

My opinion, which sparked some disagreement on the message board, was that a normal healthy person should be capable of experiencing the ride with no ill effects. The physical sensations of the ride, while intense and thrilling, are not so violent as to sicken or injure the average person. The same can be said of nearly any theme park ride, including roller coasters. The actual physical forces generated by rides are meticulously designed and tested to be safe and comfortable for most people. As I said in one posting:

"People drive cars every day at speeds far exceeding those of any ride on Disney or Universal property. The physical stresses placed on the human body by running, jumping, or even standing up quickly equal or exceed those experienced on most of Disney's thrill rides. A vigorous game of touch football generates more dynamic G-forces than any ride in Orlando."

The real source of illness in most people is not, I speculated, the actual physical sensations of the ride, but rather the psychological stress surrounding the experience. The anticipation generated by audio/visual experience, amplified by the repeated dire warnings, and reinforced by preexisting fears of thrill rides, can cause some guests to work themselves into a state of psychosomatic illness. My contention was that whether or not someone would become ill is largely determined before they are strapped into their seat, and has more to do with their emotional and psychological makeup than the strength of their stomach.

After expounding on this theory, I was accused of being insensitive towards those who suffer from ride-induced illness. There are many, I was told, who are otherwise healthy and normal, and who genuinely want to enjoy thrill rides like M:S, but who become ill through no fault of their own. Was I accusing all of them of being weak-minded and prone to hysterical illness? And how could I, a self-confessed thrill ride junkie, place myself in the shoes of someone susceptible to motion sickness?

Most importantly, is my experience as a local APholder really comparable to that of the average tourist? When I visit Epcot, I've had a good night sleep and a home-cooked meal. I drive the 15 minutes from my home, flash my pass as I drive through the parking toll booths, and head straight to the attraction of my choice. I avoid the hottest part of the midday, and my entire visit rarely lasts longer than 2 hours.

Your average tourist, on the other hand, has traveled halfway across the country with screaming children in tow and a rapidly emptying wallet. He's barely slept on a lumpy hotel mattress, awoken at dawn to a greasy buffet breakfast, and spent the day pounding the asphalt in the unforgiving Florida sun. But the time he walks up to the Mission: Space pavilion, he is already exhausted, dehydrated, aching, irritable, and slightly queasy.

How could I fairly simulate the experience of being this average tourist?

By being extremely hung over.

The following stunt is performed by a trained professional. Do not try this at home.

Step 1: Meet friends at a bar. The most famous locals bar near Disney is probably The Big Bamboo Lounge on 192 in Kissimmee, a 26-year-old landmark that was recently saved from extinction. Big Bamboo is a fun place, with an astoundingly eclectic décor, and is well worth a visit.

But for your serious drinking needs, may I recommend Wally's on Mills Avenue in downtown Orlando, a couple blocks north of Colonial Drive. Wally's is the kind of place that opens at dawn ("third shifters need a happy hour too") and closes when the last patron passes out. There are naked women on the wallpaper. No wings or onion blossoms here, nuts and olives are the only bar food they offer. Most importantly, the drinks are strong and dirt-cheap. And they serve Jagermeister, an evil concoction that is necessary for this experiment.

Step 2: Crawl into bed around 4am. Drink a bottle of water and some Tylenol in a vain attempt to stave off the inevitable.

Step 3: Wake up. More water and Tylenol. Try to remember that this is for science.

Step 4: Drive to Epcot and make your way into the park. Stand squinting at the Mission: Space pavilion, the red dome of Mars matching the color of your bleary eyes. Review the tourist simulation checklist:

Headache? Check.
Dehydration? Check.
Full-body soreness? Check.
Stomach irritation? Check.
Bad attitude? Check.

Let the simulation begin...

Photo of the Mission: Space attraction

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